How Does Jesus Make All Things New?

What is redemption? What does it mean to “make all things new.” What did Jesus mean when He said this? How is God going to accomplish this feat? Most Christians are united in an eschatology which states there will be a new heaven and a new earth with no evil. If you do not share that belief, that is fine, keep reading. I believe you may still find this blog interesting. For those who do share this eschatology, the question for us becomes, how? How will we arrive at a new heaven and a new earth and an absence of evil?

I will be addressing these questions here but first I must address a foundational question asked by a friend of mine. He asked why God did not make heaven and/or earth perfect from the start. He argued that if heaven and earth failed once, why is there more confidence in this new earth and heaven. It is a great question and one we must deal with adequately if we are going to dive into the main question of this post.

My answer to that would be that this original creation was not meant to be perfect. I believe all of creation is journeying towards wholeness and perfection and Abba God is involved in leading all of creation in that direction. My first question here would be what separates us humans from other animals? I believe it is our ability to attach meaning and symbolism to things. I was actually in a Michael Hardin lecture last night where he said you can teach a gorilla what an apple is, but the gorilla would never understand if you said he was the apple of your eye. We assign meaning to things. God, in the beginning, when He creates all of this, gives up power to humanity. He gives us the ability to attach meaning and to choose love or hate, good or evil, submission or power. God never wanted to be the puppet master so He must allow us to choose wrong paths if He is going to have any sort of relationship with us. God is triune. God is three in one. God is relationship. God has always existed in relationship and His entire desire is to be in relationship with His creation. You can only have a real relationship with someone if the person has the ability to reject your affections. This is one reason why Calvinism, to me, is abhorrent. So this brings up the fact that I am currently an open theist. This means that I do not believe God, or anyone else, knows the future because the future has yet to take place. So the bottom line answer to my friend’s question, for me, is that God creates us with the capability of making horrible, awful, monstrous decisions all the while intending to walk us to a place where those decisions no longer make any sense to us whatsoever.

I believe the entire universe will arrive at this place. I believe the entire universe will arrive at a place where the horrible, awful, monstrous decisions no longer make any sense. There will come a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb. There will come a day when all things have been made new. There will come a day when God’s will, that all should come to know Him, will be accomplished. The previous three sentences are all straight out of the scriptures. Simply google them if you do not believe me. So the question we have once again arrived at is how. How will we arrive at a creation with no evil? How do we get to a place where everyone here is someone who knows God? How do we get a new heaven and a new earth?

For many, the answer is that God will either destroy all of the bad things, or lock them in some prison away from His presence and possibly with flaming torment taking place for all eternity. Those who agree with this way of thinking can surely produce Bible verses to support their argument. With this line of thinking comes an us versus them mentality. The only way to defeat evil in this belief system is to destroy it. Whether we are talking about the demonic spiritual beings or the rebellious human ones, destruction is the way that God gets His way.

The problem I have with this view is that if we believe that the omnipotent, sovereign creator of the entire universe can only accomplish His will by destroying those things that do not fall in line, then what is to keep us from acting in the same manner. This sort of belief in God can lead us to also hold a worldview in which killing our enemies is ok whether it be through the death penalty or war or even just street justice. A god who gets his way by destroying will have followers who attempt to do his will by destroying. Obviously not everyone will take this view of God to its logical conclusion but nonetheless, therein lies the danger in this view.

There is also a logical problem with this view. His name is Jesus. Jesus does not accomplish His purposes by destroying. In fact, He specifically points out His ability to destroy just before allowing Himself to be tortured and murdered. As Brian Zahnd often says, “we serve a God who would rather die than kill His enemies.” The fullness of God is revealed to us through Jesus. We must not superimpose our view of justice onto Jesus and then attribute it to God. Jesus shows us how God enacts justice. As Jesus hung on the cross He repeated over and over “Abba forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is God’s justice.

There are far too many eschatological teachings out there which have the suffering servant of Jesus returning one day as the ultimate terminator. These teachings flip the character of Jesus entirely upside down. This is what humanity does though. We have been putting our evil desires onto God’s character for as long as we have had a language for God. We want God to enact justice in the same way we do. However, God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. We think that when something bad happens we must balance the scales of justice. Jesus shows us that when something bad happens we must forgive. Forgiveness is what changes the world.

So my argument here is that God makes all things new by doing just that, making, ALL, things, new. I believe God’s will is that all should come to know Him. Everyone. Every. Single. Person. Does that make me a universalist? Well, not in the way most think of that term. I believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. I confess that Jesus is the only way to God and that He is the savior of the entire cosmos. The ENTIRE cosmos.

If God were to destroy some beings, be they physical or spiritual, well then He Himself is stopping what He says His own will is, that all should come to know Him. That makes God foolish. But He is not foolish. God IS infinite wisdom. How could a being who knows everything that is knowable not know how to win over every single piece of His creation?

One of my friends said that we must first want to be redeemed. I could not agree more. I believe in free will. I believe that we can always choose to reject God’s love. I also believe, however, that God will not give up on us…ever. I believe in a God who would pursue Hitler’s heart for all of eternity if that is what it took to redeem him. I believe God loves every person who has ever lived with a relentless love. A love that never gives up. I believe evil is defeated not by being overpowered, for it takes evil to overpower evil. Evil is defeated through redemption, through love, through forgiveness.

Yesterday a woman named Kelly Gissendaner was executed. Her appeal was denied by a governor who claims to follow Jesus. Kelly conspired to have her husband killed. Once in prison, her life was radically transformed by the figure Georgia’s governor claims to follow. She gained a degree in theology and became a minister and counselor to fellow inmates and even guards. She became a picture of the radical, life-changing power of Jesus Christ. The state of Georgia walked out mainstream Christian theology, however, when they murdered her yesterday. While Kelly was having poison pumped into her veins I was eating dinner with friends. A short while after our meal, we were told of the state sponsored revenge killing which had taken place. Suddenly I was struck with the importance of this topic I have been thinking about for nearly a week now. Georgia is a state in which most people claim to be followers of Jesus, yet they murdered a woman whose life had been radically transformed by Jesus. We MUST get away from this idea that God redeems by killing. He does not. Nothing was redeemed when Kelly Gissendaner was murdered yesterday. The world did not become more beautiful. In fact, the world lost some beauty. We must begin making decisions which lead to redemption. We must begin making decisions that add beauty to this world, not eliminate it. Jesus and His Abba are all about redemption. If we claim to follow them, it is long past time for us to be as well.

Moving Out Of Gehenna

Depending on what translation you are using, there will be somewhere between thirteen and twenty-three references to “hell” in your Bible. Did you know that there are many different words which have been translated as the English word “hell”? Of these words the most common one is the word Gehenna. Gehenna is in the text of the New Testament twelve times. In modern times, largely because of the way our translating has gone but also because of the Greek way of thinking most of us in the west have, we have made Gehenna strictly about the afterlife. This is unfortunate because by doing this we have lost so much from Jesus’ teachings by eliminating the word Gehenna and its historical context from the New Testament of the Bible.

The valley of Hinnom is an actual place in Jerusalem. It’s a valley close to Mt. Zion. The Valley of Hinnom, Ge Hinnom, or in Greek, Gehenna, is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Gehenna was not a good place in Jewish history. This is where the Israelites went to sacrifice their children to the false Ammonite god, Molech. Israelites burned their children alive to appease this “god” Molech. It’s interesting that pretty much every time Molech is mentioned in the Bible the phrase “the detestable god” comes right before the name. The OT writers knew that a god which demands the blood of children was especially evil.

However, Israel served Molech as well as Ba’al and other pagan gods in Gehenna. They served these gods because they believed that they would bring them protection as well as provision and military success. Essentially, Israel had come to the conclusion that any amount of destruction was acceptable as long as it was for the good of the empire. Sound familiar? I wonder if the Israelites referred to their children they sacrificed to Molech as collateral damage?

In Jeremiah chapter seven and verses thirty through thirty-two we see how God felt about Gehenna and what was taking place there;

“The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. They have built the high places of Topheth [a place in Gehenna] in the valley of Ben Hinnom [Gehenna] to burn their sons and daughters in the fire – something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room.”

Jeremiah goes on to declare just how brutal this destruction will be, but you get the picture. Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the Babylonian siege of 587 B.C. The Jewish people recognized that their actions in Gehenna were the seed they had sown which they had reaped as total annihilation and captivity. For the next several centuries Gehenna became a symbol of Israelite destruction. When the Jewish people were able to return to Jerusalem they still recognized that Gehenna was a symbol of where they went off track.

It was more than just a reminder of their poor choices though, it was a reminder of the very mindset which led them to that destruction. They had fallen into a mindset of domination. They wanted to dominate the nations around them and they wanted to dominate one another. Gehenna was a symbol of where the Israelites had forsaken the revolutionary teachings of Yahweh. They had forsaken the law which told them to treat one another with dignity and respect and to give away freedom and excess and care to all who needed it. They had forsaken these things for security, for prosperity, for the good of the nation…or so they thought.

So when Jesus used Gehenna in His teachings, His Jewish audience would have immediately recognized what He was talking about. This is why there is only one reference to Gehenna in Luke’s gospel (written to Gentiles) while the rest of the references in the gospels come in Mark (largely believed to have been dictated by Peter), and Matthew (which was written to the Jewish people). I believe Luke mostly leaves out references to Gehenna because it would not have anywhere close to the significance to his non Jewish audience as it did to Matthew and Mark’s predominantly Jewish audience.

Jesus was imploring His listeners to get out of this mindset which caused them to want to dominate others. He was telling them to stop with the violent revolts against their Roman oppressors. This was by no means a popular teaching. Throughout Jesus’ public ministry His followers repeatedly tried to get Him to step into the role of leading a rebellion.

This sort of came to a head on Palm Sunday. Jesus came into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration riding on a baby donkey and He was welcomed with palm branches and people shouting “Hosanna!” or “Save us!” These same people called Jesus Son of David, a reference to Israel’s greatest king and military leader. In my Bible the title for this passage says, “Jesus comes to Jerusalem as King.” Some Bibles may have the title, “The triumphal entry into Jerusalem,” and that is certainly what it appeared to be. The Jewish people were ready to make Jesus king and start the revolution against the evil, Roman Empire. What do you think Jesus’ response to His people wanting to make Him king and start the good fight against the evil Romans was? You think He celebrated? Do you think He had a time of praise? Well let’s take a look at Luke chapter nineteen verses forty-one through forty-four where we see Jesus’ response;

“As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Picture Jesus, tears streaming down His cheeks, possibly with a mob still behind Him imploring Him to lead their just war, looking out over the city where God had said His presence would dwell and crying out, “If only you knew what would bring you peace!” You see, the Jewish people believed, as do many of us, that sowing violence and by dominating the enemy, they would receive peace. Jesus was constantly trying to show them that love of enemy (which is the same as love of neighbor), was how they would receive peace. Love God and love people. This was Jesus’ message. This was the culmination of God’s message to the world. Jesus saw the direction the Jewish people were headed and it broke His heart.

Sadly the Jewish people did not heed Jesus’ warning and in 70 A.D. the occupying Roman forces put down a Jewish revolt with unbridled force. Jewish historian Josephus describes the destruction of Jerusalem vividly in his book The Wars of the Jews. Josephus said the army only demolished the temple, “after there were no more people to slay or plunder,” Josephus also writes that, “men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers.” [emphasis mine]

Israel had truly returned to Gehenna. I believe Jesus looked over Jerusalem and saw this carnage coming as He heard the shouts of “Save us Son of David!” behind Him. So what does all this mean for us? I am glad you asked. We must learn from the story of Israel. We must look at the teachings of Jesus in their TRUE historical context and see that we too are headed to Gehenna. Friends, we must redirect our course. We have to understand that our ways of pushing ourselves up by pushing others down is exactly what Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for, even at one point saying they make others twice as much a son of Gehenna as they are.

I can see Jesus looking out over our nation saying, “if only you knew what would bring you peace!” Tears are still streaming down the face of our messiah. He is still imploring us to get out of Gehenna, love God and love people. Every time we engage in an us vs them mentality or any sort of ideology that elevates us while pushing down someone else, we enter into the fire of Gehenna. Every time we choose dominance over mercy, respect and dignity we enter into the fires of Gehenna.

We must learn that we are ALL intrinsically tied together on this planet. ISIS is comprised of our brothers and sisters, the man on death row is your brother, the woman smoking crack and living off government help is your sister. We must learn to love. Let us leave the fires of Gehenna my friends, and follow Jesus as He shows us just what it is that will ACTUALLLY bring us peace.

A story about a survivor

Today I want to tell you about one of my heroes. Her name is Cori, and she’s my little sister. Ok, so she’s not my sister by blood. Ok so she’s not my stepsister either. But this also isn’t a “my sister in Christ” type relationship. You see, when we were both just two years old, our mothers were roommates. From that point on we spent pretty much every holiday together, we vacationed together, we played together and we fought together. We grew up just like brother and sister. At some point, it became too complicated to explain to people that Cori was more than a friend to me but not anything like a girlfriend so we just started telling people we were brother and sister. Some people don’t think that is a legitimate claim, but to us, it’s true. My son’s will call her Aunt Cori (or Aunt Corny as Joshua has begun referring to her), our kids will grow up looking at each other as cousins, and her son Loki will know me as his uncle.

Now that that is out of the way, let me tell you about my little sister. From what I remember growing up, Cori was the happiest, funniest most carefree person I have ever met. She never felt like she had to follow a fad or be like other people. She always marched to the beat of her own drum and had a good time doing it. Cori was always up for trying new things or pretty much anything that seemed like it might be fun. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my childhood was infinitely more interesting because Cori was a part of it.

Both Cori and I grew up tough though. We both had fathers that for whatever reason were not around. We did have Ronnie who was a father figure to both of us but I think there’s something that gets scarred in a kid’s soul when their father is not involved in their lives. Both of us learned how to fight young, and both of us had tempers that once they clicked, our entire countenance would change. I would go from being super laid back to yelling and bouncing and fighting. Cori went from happy and carefree to clawing and punching and kicking.

By the time high school rolled around both of us were dabbling in drugs. We both had pain in our hearts which we wanted to drown out. After high school, we both got worse. I got deep into using drugs and the gang lifestyle and Cori got deeper into the pills and the parties. When I was nineteen, I went to a program to seek help. For Cori, things kept getting worse. The drugs got harder and the parties got darker. She got tougher and tougher due in part to the abusive relationships she was in. Heroine somehow found it’s way into her life and sunk it’s claws into her soul.

As Cori fought to be free of her addictions, going to several rehabs, she just wasn’t able to find freedom from the devil of a drug that is heroine. Life was pretty much upside down for Cori when she found out she was pregnant. She tried so hard throughout her pregnancy to get her life turned around but even after Loki was born things still seemed to spiral downwards.

A pretty crazy turn of events wound up forcing Cori to take Loki and go to a rehab in Birmingham. She was already moving in that direction but now her hand was forced and DHR was involved. Cori excelled in the program she was in for about a year, but the stress of living in a rehab, working crazy hours at her job, and raising an energetic boy on her own caught up to her and she was kicked out of the rehab for drinking a specific energy drink that they had outlawed.

Cori tried to get into another rehab and it just did not work out and the state decided they needed to take her son from her. She found a friend that would be willing to temporarily take her son so that he would not go into foster care. After some time went by Cori returned to Baldwin County (which is where her son was) and began trying to piece her life back together. She was done with the drugs completely, and had a new boyfriend named Andrew. Andrew has been such a huge blessing to Cori. He has shown her what it is to be in a relationship with a man who adores her, would never hit her, and will be on her side no matter what. Cori continued going to drug classes and even reaching out to encourage others who have gone through similar situations as her.

We moved to Alabama this past January and got the opportunity to hang out with Cori, and the first thing I noticed was that for the first time in over a decade, I looked into my little sister’s eyes and saw the girl I grew up with. Cori was back. She has such a simple, sweet faith in God that has been so encouraging to me over these last several months.

I had the privilege of being with Cori in court the day she got her son back. I can’t say I have ever been more proud of her than on that day. There had been some issues with this friend of hers who she had given custody of her son to. The friend and his wife became very attached to Loki and began to see him as their own child. They had known Cori at her lowest point and were understandably apprehensive in giving Loki back to her. But Cori has become fully capable of being an amazing mom to Loki and giving him the life he deserves. Whether they didn’t know that or their affection for Loki wouldn’t let them see that I’m not sure, but whatever the case, it was quite a struggle for Cori to regain custody of her son.

As we sat in the hallway outside the court room that day Cori was so kind and talkative and gracious to the people who had custody of her son. I was having a hard time doing that but she showed me just how much kindness we are capable of. Even after the judge ordered reunification, meaning Cori gets custody of her son back, she offered to let them take him for a few hours so they could say good bye. I thought that was so huge of her. As we were leaving, I patted the man on his back and asked him if they were going to be ok. He said it would take some time, but they would be. As Cori, Andrew, Loki, Cori’s mom Ann and I went to lunch Cori thanked me for being kind and asking the man if they would be ok. I couldn’t help but laugh. “ME?!” I exclaimed, “I figured if you could be so kind and gracious I SURE AS HELL could!”

I’ve learned a lot from my sister these last few months. I learned about determination and persistency and faith and trust. She had confidence that at some point she would regain custody of her son and she never gave up hope on that. I’ve learned that we can be gracious to anyone, no matter the circumstance.

Cori is a shining example of God’s grace and mercy and life changing power. I pray that her son will grow up knowing how strong his mother is. Oh by the way, Andrew proposed to her recently, so I’ll have the honor of calling him my brother-in-law soon! Things are going pretty good now for Cori and her little family. Please keep her in your prayers as Cori, Andrew and Loki adjust to normal life.

Finally, I just wanted to share Cori’s story because I know there are so many out there who are struggling with drug addiction or know someone who is. When you are in the midst of that it may seem like things are just never going to get better. Cori is an example of why we should never give up on people. She may have been trapped in the darkness for roughly a decade, but now she has been set free! Now instead of taking drugs she plants flowers. Instead of being involved in drama she catches amazing pictures of sunsets. Instead of finding trouble she finds fun, unique things to do with her family. Cori is who she was created to be. She is the fun, adventurous girl I grew up with. I am honored to be her brother. And I hope you get the chance to meet her someday. She’s a pretty amazing person!

On To The Next Season!

Karen and I are excited to announce that we are moving back to Texas! Not to Houston, as much as we love that city, but to Dallas! Dallas has always been a city that intrigued us for many reasons. Not the least of which being that two of our good friends, Eric and Jill Curtis, live there. Well about a month ago my friend Eric was serving on jury duty for a murder trial. Every day he was steeped in the details of the streets and faced with the knowledge that this chaos was taking place just a few minutes from where he works. Every day, when the trial would end, he would return to his home in the suburbs and wonder what he could do to help people trapped in that world. Eric and I began having conversations about what it would look like for Karen and I to come out there and be a part of an intentional community with a focus on helping people in the city. At first it was just a kind of, “what would this look like” conversation but it quickly escalated into something we both got excited about. Our wives were equally excited and the four of us started skyping regularly. The plan was for us to finish our lease here in Alabama and come to Dallas in January. However, things rarely go as planned. Karen and I fell on hard times financially and began to realize that I just was not going to be able to make the money to continue paying our bills here in Alabama. Eric made an offer to us to come to Dallas early, and in the end we realized that was exactly what we needed to do. So we will be moving to Dallas at the end of September. This may come as a shock to some of you but not only do we feel it is what God is leading us to do, but it is kind of our only option right now. We are excited for this new season and to get back to being on the streets and involved in many different types of ministry again. My plan is to find a way to get back into college and at least get a bachelor’s degree while doing ministry full time. This last season in Alabama has taught Karen and I that we actually thrive more in a fast pace than when we do not have a lot going on.

That brings us to this last season. Seven months ago Karen, Joshua and I moved to the town I grew up in. The town of Foley, Alabama. I had a lot of big ideas about changing the world from this small town when we came here. The thought was that we would start a church and draw on the wealth of friends we have made around the world over the last several years to bring a global perspective to this small town. I hoped to be able to have good conversations with my Christian friends about faith and theology and God’s goodness. I thought we would be a safe haven for those who were interested in God but wanted nothing to do with mainstream Christianity. But Proverbs 16:9 has proven to be so true for our time here, “In his heart a man plans his steps, but the Lord directs his way.” It would be easy for me to look at our time here in Alabama as a failure. But when I step back and take inventory of these last seven months, I recognize that I have grown exponentially and I have learned a ton. I think we have made a difference in some people’s lives and we’ve had this amazing opportunity to be close to family even if it was a short season.

To those who have walked with us in this season, thank you. From the bottom of our hearts. Your friendship to us is more valuable than we could ever express. I can tell you without a doubt that your support kept us going many times when we would have thrown in the towel. You know who you are and I wish I could find the words to tell you all individually how much you mean to us, and I will try, but for now I will just say thank you for surrounding us with your unconditional love, acceptance and encouragement. God has used many of you to breathe life into our weary souls at various times.

To those friends and mentors that I have lost in this season, and I do hope you read this at some point, I love you. Thank you for what you have been in my life in the past and I sincerely apologize for my part in the fracturing of our relationships in this season. I believe wholeheartedly in the things I preach and write about and I understand that for some of you that makes me a threat to the work you are trying to do. I get it. I do pray that one day we can all be at a place where our doctrinal differences no longer divide us and we can be friends again under the banner of God’s great love for us all. Jesus Christ is Lord can be the phrase which unites us all. I apologize for whatever role I have played in our division. My desire is unity. I pray that the peace of Christ would reign in your hearts and in your ministries. My hope for you is only that you continue to encounter Jesus, Holy Spirit and Abba on a regular basis and that they lead everything you do. Be blessed.

To my home town, honestly, truly, I wept for you this morning. It has been well over a month since the last day that I did not see some giant confederate flag waving along highway 59. I pray that Baldwin County, Alabama would become a place where people begin to care more about their neighbor than their heritage. I truly believe there are seeds here in southern Alabama for God to do a great move and for a true enlightenment to take place. God. Is. Love. Remember that. He is not Janus faced or multifaceted, He is love. Everything about God flows out of love. Jesus is the full revelation of God. Anything that contradicts the person of Jesus Christ also contradicts the heart of God. Growing up down here we learn to fight, we learn to be passionate, we learn to stand for what we believe in. I am forever grateful for that, because I believe those very things have enabled me to stand on some convictions when many people are telling me I am wrong. As a people we must learn to choose compassion over conviction. In fact, our convictions must BECOME compassion, if we are to bring God’s kingdom to Baldwin County, Alabama as it is in heaven. I hope that I have introduced a new perspective to some of you, even if you disagree with me. I do hope that compassion and mercy would become the guiding light that lead us as we seek to walk out our faith.

Finally, I just want to say it has been an amazing 7 months. I am so grateful to have had this time to reconnect with some old friends, spend extra time with my family and even make some new friends. I love you guys. Thank you for being a part of our journey.

Why I Got Rid Of My Confederate Flags

When I was a child my grandfather instilled in me a love of history. He took me to Gettysburg, Jamestown, Tuskegee and many other historical sites where I would learn about days gone by in our nation. I learned that the Civil War was not so clear cut as I was taught in school. I learned that it was not simply the good guy north against the bad guy south and, being a good southern boy raised in Alabama, aka the heart of Dixie, I fell in love with the romance of “the old south” as they called it. I heard stories about men like Robert E. Lee who said the first side to free the slaves would win the Civil War. I heard stories about men like Stonewall Jackson, whose bravery knew no equal. I learned about General Sherman’s march to the sea and how he caused (by his estimate) over one hundred million dollars in property damage, which was unfathomable at the time. I loved my heritage, and I bought a couple small confederate flags at some of these civil war museums my Granddad had taken me to. For me the confederate flag represented only that I was a boy from the south and I was proud to be from Alabama.

I also had a mother who taught me never to judge a book by its cover, or a person by their color. I remember being very young and getting into a childhood fight with a couple black kids in my neighborhood and going home and telling my mother I didn’t like black people. Her response to me was that there are good and bad people of all colors and that I should never assume that people will be a certain way just because of what they look like. I think, largely due to my mother’s guidance, I grew up rejecting the racism that I heard and saw all around me. Referring to black people as niggers was something I simply never did. I also never laughed at the racist jokes I sometimes heard from my white friends. None of it ever sat right with me. I also always had at least a couple close black friends as I grew up.

This is the story about how a black friend of mine caused me to get rid of my confederate flags.

I must have been around 13 at the time. Early lived right down the road from me and had become one of my best friends. At that age I got picked on a lot and Early stood up for me and for the next several months we were pretty much inseparable. We both loved basketball and we would sometimes play for hours pretending to be various famous players.

One day, Early and I were in my house and we were looking for a football to play with. My room was always notoriously messy so finding anything in it was always a challenge. I was looking under my bed and Early was looking in my closet and he found my two confederate flags I had gotten on one of my trips with my Granddad. I saw him pull them out and my heart immediately jumped into my throat. For all my knowledge about the Civil War there was something inside me that knew that flag would mean something completely different to Early. He held the flag and looked at me and I’ll never forget what he asked me, “you a redneck?!” The question was not accusatory. It was one that held behind it the hurt of the racism that Early had surely experienced as a black boy growing up in southern Alabama. His question was one of betrayal. How could this good friend whom he had defended have the very flag that represented (to him), oppression and hate?

I ensured him that I was not a redneck and that I had just gotten the flag at a Civil War museum a couple summers ago. We found the football and went outside and played and I thought it was forgotten. However, things between Early and I were never the same. Sure, we were still friends, but it became more that we were friends in a friend group instead of him being one of my closest friends. I don’t recall him ever coming to my house after that day.

One day, at school, someone who I guess did not like me told Early that they heard me call him a nigger. As I said earlier, that word just was not in my vocabulary so I knew they were lying. A couple months earlier Early would have known they were lying as well. But now he had seen the Confederate flag in my room and our friendship had drifted a bit and so he believed them. He ran up and pushed me and started asking me if I said that. He was ready to fight me over it.

Now, I must tell you that as a 13 year old I was no stranger to getting in fights. As I said, I was picked on a lot when I was young and I had begun to believe the best way to deal with that was to fight. So when Early first pushed me I was ready to fight. I put my fists up before I even knew what was going on. Teachers were close by however, so our fight was broken up before it started. But with the teachers in between us Early began yelling and asking if I called him a nigger. My anger from being pushed was gone and I saw in his eyes, beyond the anger, the same look from when he found that flag in my closet. Early was hurt. The kid he had stuck up for, played basketball with and laughed with, in his mind, held a confederate flag and had called him the worst name a white kid could call a black kid. I tried telling him it was a lie but the damage had already been done.

Early and I never fought, but we were never really friends again either. Over the years we would see each other and always say hello, and when we got older we would even be happy to see each other after so many years had passed, but it was always just a cheerful hello and how have you been and then we’d go our separate ways.

So this is a very long story to make a point. After Early found those confederate flags in my closet I got rid of them. I didn’t know anything about being politically correct or systematic racism. All I knew was that this symbol hurt my friend and any symbol that hurt my friend was not one I wanted laying around my room. I learned a valuable lesson through all of that. A lesson that I believe my fellow southerners could glean from.

You see, it really does not matter what a certain flag or symbol represents to you. If you want to be a person who promotes unity, you must consider what that symbol means for the person seeing it. Also, for many of us white southerners, the history we associate with the confederate flag is from the mid 1800’s. For many of our black brothers and sisters the history they associate with it is from the mid to late 1900’s. As this country was desegregated, the opponents of integration would often waive the confederate flag at black kids as they attempted to just attend a school which also educated white kids. In the 60’s and 70’s the waving of this flag was often accompanied by racist chants and slurs and signs.

Our problem as a culture is that we often only consider what we believe when deciding to do certain things. If we were to consider those around us, we may be able to make more progress towards unity. We must learn to see the world through other people’s eyes. Everyone experiences the world differently and if we can try to understand how our friends, and even our enemies, see the world, then perhaps we can make the world a better place.

I’m not saying the flag should be outlawed or not sold or anything. Legality does not help heart issues. What I am saying is that as individuals, we should consider what we are projecting onto others as we waive certain banners.

Let us raise love as our only banner. Let us raise acceptance as our prime virtue. Let us stop fighting for our rights and start laying them down for the good of our friends. We are all connected, we are all a part of the same pie here.

Love well my friends, and may your friends always know the depth of your love for them.

Memorial Day

The greatest man I’ve ever known was a war hero. It was a part of who he was, but it could not come close to defining him. He was also a lawyer, (one of the best), a storyteller, an amazing husband and father as well as my grandfather. My granddad, in many ways, was sort of the stereotypical patriarch. He loved to sit around and tell stories. He passed a love for storytelling on to the rest of my family. When we get together there is rarely the need for games or television. We tell stories. It is what Robinson’s do. It is our heritage. My granddad loved his country but he also just loved cultures. I know I inherited a love for experiencing different cultures from him. There is no man I have ever looked up to as much as my grandfather.

My grandfather also walked with a limp. He took a bullet in the knee from a sniper while getting his men to safety in one of the Pacific battles of World War Two. I have heard the story many times of him getting shot in the knee, as well as his subsequent time in the hospital and when he awoke to the beautiful sight of his big toe, letting him know his leg was not amputated. I have heard this story so many times that if I close my eyes I can picture the setting. I can picture the sniper in the trees, I can picture my granddad being the last man to safety so as to ensure that his men were safe.

I loved that story as a child. Sometimes I would pretend I had not heard it, just to hear my Granddad tell it again. We all need heroes in our lives, my granddad was mine. However, recently I began thinking about the stories my granddad would not tell. As a child wrapped in the cultural ideal of good guys killing bad guys, there were several times I asked my granddad questions like, “how many bad guys did you kill?” or “tell me about when you shot the bad guys!” I remember vividly the look on his face when I would ask him about those things. Now, you need to know that my granddad would always maintain eye contact with me while he was telling stories. He knew that his facial expressions would pull you into his stories. But when I would ask him about killing “bad guys” he would break eye contact, stare off into the distance, and say something to the effect of, “I don’t talk about that.”

You see, there was something in my grandfather that knew that the worst thing he ever experienced was not being shot. The worst thing my grandfather had experienced was ending someone’s life at the end of his own gun. He never told me this obviously. But it can be inferred by the fact that a man who loved to tell stories, held back the stories that he knew would have been most interesting to his grandson.

My granddad knew I was wrong in how I felt about the glory of war. He was proud of the fact that he had saved lives. He was not proud of the fact that he had taken life.

War destroys lives. The evil hand of war reaches far beyond the battlefield, affecting soldiers who have gone home, as well as families of those who have lived and died. When war happens, even the victors lose.

Today is Memorial Day. Today is the day that we remember our soldiers who were lost on the battlefield. I have heard some Christians with a nonviolent stance like my own saying that they will not take part in Memorial Day festivities. I disagree with that sentiment. We should for sure remember every soldier lost in battle.

But our Memorial Day is too shortsighted. We must begin to move beyond remembering only our own people lost to the evils of war. We must think about the Iraqi child who became a victim of “collateral damage,” The Vietnamese child who was coerced into strapping a bomb to their chest, the fatherless Afghani teenager whose dad died fighting for the Taliban, the German soldier who was brainwashed into believing Hitler had the best interest of his country at heart and anyone else we may view as “enemy casualties.”

In Christ, there is no enemy other. Our culture divides everything along the lines of good guys and bad guys. But as followers of Jesus we must learn to look upon the enemy other and pray, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus beckons us to forgive, our culture beckons us to remember “our boys” who died. There is nothing wrong with remembering our guys, families of the fallen deserve that. The problem comes when we give more importance to our tragedies than we do the tragedies of families in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Japan etc.

This Memorial Day, remember the fallen soldiers you know, remember the goodness in them, but also my friends, remember that had they been born in a different place, they may have been the enemy soldier, and their death would have been no less tragic.

Never forget. Never forget the pain war causes. Always remember those we have lost to our violent ways. Always remember that every human on this planet is intrinsically tied together. When an Iraqi family loses a child, we lose a child.

Hold your children close on this Memorial Day, and remember the children affected by war all over the planet. Let this Memorial Day be one of sober remembrance instead of yet another celebration of our empire’s military might. Pray for peace my friends. Forgive, as we have been forgiven.

Happy Memorial Day.

Nameless Church 3 Months In

Three months ago I returned to my hometown of Foley, Alabama to start a church. It was very different to all the other times I had come home. I am used to coming home to lots of people wanting to see me. I am used to people asking me to come pray with this person or talk to that person. However, this time, there was none of that. I returned home to silence. The silence spoke loudly.

Apparently I have picked up some beliefs which are not too popular with my fellow evangelicals. They have made it clear that I am not in their club and will not be receiving the benefits which come along with being in their club. That in itself changed what we thought we would be doing when we moved here.

One thing that did not change, however, was that we were to start a church out of our home. Out of all the things that have gone wrong since we moved here, this has gone better than we could have ever hoped for. I am blown away by what I have seen the Lord do within our little church and it more than makes up for all the hurt and rejection I have faced since returning to my hometown.

We called the church Nameless Church because we want to be a home for those people who feel they are invisible, a home for those who feel nameless. We also want to be a place that does not put labels on people. We want to be a center for people to just be, rather than feeling they have to be something or someone. Nameless Church is meant to be a place for people to let their guard down and know that there is no judgment.

The people who have formed this little community are people who otherwise would not be going to church. That is a word the Lord gave us before we ever came here. Karen and I were visiting a while back and I heard God say fairly clearly that our church would not be built from people swapping churches, but rather from people coming to know Him.

I recognize that I am very different from most pastors and that I believe some things that are different from what most evangelical churches, especially in America, believe. And I think that is ok. If I was just like everyone else then I would be foolish to start yet another church in the heart of the Bible belt!

We have had some really discouraging moments since moving down here. People I once considered like family have completely shunned us. There was one night when we were supposed to be having church and three people showed up. We had a moment where we had absolutely no clue how we were going to pay the rent in the month of April. I was substitute teaching and loving it and then my sub card got deactivated because of a crime committed nearly thirteen years ago. But every single time, God has been so good to us in the midst of it.

Some friends have become better friends, some of our closest friends have shown us that we are deeply cared for and loved. The night we only had three people come to church turned into a very fun game night and bonding time. We paid the rent in the month of April, and due to people’s generosity, we were able to pay our bills for Karen’s doctor visits for her current pregnancy. I have my sub card back. I stand here more confident than ever that God is exceedingly, abundantly good, even though I am still walking through some very difficult situations.

This morning at church, nearly everyone in the room heard God’s voice for someone else in the room. Tears were shed and much affirmation took place. Our community is mostly a group of people who are foreign to the idea of “hearing God,” but they are hearing Him now, for themselves and for one another. This was one of the main things Karen and I hoped to bring to whatever community of people God set us in. We believe hearing the voice of God is absolutely vital. So, to hear that today and to see people walking in peace and love and compassion for one another, well, it nearly took my breath away.

All we want is to see people learn to love each other well. We want to help as many people as possible, learn to love as many people as possible, as Jesus has loved us. We are seeing this begin to take place in the tiny community of believers which has developed around us. We may be a nameless church, but the people within our church know each other’s names. And they care deeply for one another. In my book, that is a great victory.

Reformation

Reformation never comes easy. Perhaps that is why the word looks so similar to revolution. Both are things which come at great cost. The reformer, like the revolutionary, must be willing to risk everything to bring the change in which they believe in.

There comes a moment in every person’s life where you must decide if the things you believe in passionately are worth the cost to fight for. If they are you will face persecution, rejection, ridicule and loneliness. Obviously these things overlap some and you will go in and out of experiencing each one at different times, but the point is, bringing change is difficult.

The revolutionary has something at his disposal that the reformer does not…well, should not have. The revolutionary can kill his opponents. The revolutionary can lean on violence as a tool to overthrow the powers that be. The reformer must win the battle by his/her capacity to suffer and love. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized this as he sought to reform the American church. He once famously penned, from a jail cell, these beautifully prophetic words aimed at racist southern Christians,

“We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you…Throw us in jail and we shall still love you…But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win our freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

A reformer relies on shining a light into the darkness. The problem is that when people have been in a dark room for a very long time, they have grown accustomed to it. Is the light better? Sure. Does the light enable us to see things as they really are? Absolutely. But it hurts our eyes. We may recoil back and cover our eyes. Some may even shout, turn the light off! The reformer knows it is absolutely necessary for people to be able to adjust their eyes to the light. Even if they hate them for flipping the switch.

Christianity has been in bed with empire for so long and been synonymous with empire for nearly as long, that sometimes it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. There are reformers rising up all over the place who are no longer satisfied with being in the dark room and struggling to tell the difference between Christianity and the empire. The light is flicking on all over the place and people are starting to see more clearly.

The current model of Christianity is dying. People are fleeing from it at alarming rates. The established church is trying desperately to become more relevant or more entertaining or more seeker friendly, and I think all those things are fine, a lot of my good friends subscribe to those things, but there is also an ever growing group of people saying, “I just want to follow Jesus, I could care less how relevant or entertaining or seeker friendly the community is, I just want to understand Jesus.”

The establishment is crumbling underneath the weight of its own stances. Hardline stances on behavior and appearance are pushing people away. Even the most gracious in the established church are forced to take hardline, dogmatic stances on certain things, such as homosexuality and patriotism, which are deemed crucial by the larger establishment, while ignoring the nonviolent example set by Jesus and walked out by the disciples as well as early Christians.

Jesus is merciful, forgiving and understanding. If the church does not look like that then it just doesn’t matter what else we are doing. God looks like Jesus. Jesus is the full revelation of the Father. If it doesn’t look like Jesus, then it is not God.

If the church cannot learn to love people and get rid of all the “yea but’s” then we will become just another relic of history. If the church cannot learn to let science point to God instead of digging our heels in the dirt, closing our eyes and refusing to accept the truth, then we will never truly be relevant.

Here in America we are having culture wars. The status quo is to fall in line with what has always been believed, but truth be told, no one ever does that. Twenty years ago contemporary Christian worship music was seen as evil and traditional hymns were the only way. “A guitar in church?! How irreverent!” This shout was surely common in a previous generation. Now we are talking ideals, we are talking about the structure on which this whole thing stands.

Ponder this question. If the whole established church fell apart, where would you be left? If the machine that is organized religion crumbled, where would you be? Would you have a community of brothers and sisters you could lock arms with? Or would lacking a service to attend leave you lost?

We have to stop doing church to hear a good preacher or going somewhere because we agree with their doctrine or whatever. We need to do church with people we can do family with. We need people we can disagree with and still walk with. We need people who can argue with us over coffee and then go out and tell people, together, about this Jesus who has changed our lives.

Now, back to the empire. Our wars, our vast lean towards funding our military while leaving our schools grossly underfunded, has aligned the empire in which we live in a specific disposition. Do not buy the lies the political parties feed you. Both Republican and Democrat have contributed to our sickening over funding of our military. For the church to get in bed with this monster is a grave mistake. The problem is, we made this mistake about 1700 years ago.

When Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire, the face of Christianity changed forever. All the sudden we Christians decided there was such thing as a just war. It would not be long before we Christians were advocating, and even perpetuating, holy wars.

It’s time to turn the light on and see that Jesus was never in bed with the empire. The empire saw Jesus as a threat because a message of peace, love and nonviolence can sink an empire. This is the same reason that as true Christianity rises from the rubble of the cultural Christianity which has enveloped our nation, those in power will do everything they can to silence the voice of the reformers.

Many of the current reformers have felt the wrath of the establishment already. But we press on. We continue to keep our feet fitted with the readiness which comes from the gospel of PEACE (Ephesians 6). The gospel…of peace.

The current reformers might be hard to recognize. Very few of us are behind podiums on a Sunday, though some are. We may be waiting your table or tending your bar or painting your house or photographing your wedding. We are incognito. Not because we want to be, but because that is where the establishment has pushed us. However, we are not whispering. We are speaking. We are speaking loudly, boldly and confidently. We are speaking up for the man on death row, we are praying for the Muslim in the middle of the war of the empires. We are following Jesus. We are beckoning you to join us. We are attempting to win you with our capacity to love.

Join us. Throw off the chains of the establishment and take a chance. Risk it all, in the name of love…in the name of Jesus Christ. We know it’s scary, but we believe that a better world is possible. We believe this world can be changed, and we believe you will be a part of that.

See you soon.

My Heart Cry

I haven’t written any poetry in a while. But this came to me as I lay in bed this morning.

This comes from the depths of my soul
I’m 30 years old and this world is cold
I feel warmth at my fingertips, but it’s
So hard, to start, a revolution when the solution
Seems to be, violence but you’re speaking of peace.
I’ll follow Jesus, never submit to the beast
At least, if everyone disappears I’ll know I conquered my fears.
I’ve stood tall all these years
Through the taunts and the jeers
The anger of my foes and the silence of my peers.
Will I be considered a great man?
Yo that’s in God’s hand.
But  I’ve got one life to live
and with it I’ma love and spread gospel, the best that I can.
this is my heart cry
you wanna know why?
Because I’ve tried and I’ve tried
to untie myself from my culture
but the structure keeps pullin me back
Feel like I’m under attack
all these arrows pointed straight at my back
how is it that, I’ve a knack for making enemies when I’m speaking of love?
It’s all good, I know I ain’t perfect and stuff
I suppose, I’ll rest on my morals and find peace from above.

A Vision for a Christian Nation

The great Catholic mystic Thomas Merton once said, “A Christian is committed to the belief that love and mercy are the most powerful forces on earth“. A friend of mine, whom I look up to a great deal, recently asked me what I would propose to do to protect our nation (America), if we were to dissolve our military and destroy all our weapons. It is an extremely valid question. One I do not claim to have an answer to. I would make a lousy general. A reaction I often get from people when I talk about peace and nonviolence is that this is a nice ideal but it simply is not realistic. I understand my atheist friends making that assertion. But as Christians, do we not believe in and hope for many things, which, on the surface do not appear “realistic”?

Part of the problem, I believe, is a misplaced eschatology which has come mostly from poor translation of scripture. Eschatology has become all about something that happens after this world has passed away. So we take the powerful prophecies in scripture about peace and we make them not possible for now. However, Jesus prayed “Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” So that’s what I fight for. That’s what I press toward.

In Matthew 10:7 Jesus tells His disciples as He sends them out, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” He did not tell them to say, “The kingdom of heaven will come near in roughly 2,000 years.” It has come near now. The prophecies are for today!

All this being said, God has given me a vision for our nation. You may hear it and think it is idealistic. You may read it and think I am foolish. However, the same was said of Jesus when he suggested his followers love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. I’m sure the same was said of Jesus when he encouraged his followers to carry the gear of the occupying Roman soldiers further than Jewish people would be required to. I am sure the same was said of Martin Luther King Jr. as he shared his not yet realized dream that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. He was surely considered a fool for demanding African-Americans have equal rights as white Americans.

Dreamers, prophets, artists, poets and pastors all share a common mission. We are all called to pique the imagination of our audience. We are all called to show people that another world is possible. A better world is possible. Right here. Right now. And the Spirit and the bride say “Come!” Here is the vision God gave me. Scripture references will be in parentheses.

I looked from sea to shining sea over the land of the free and the home of the brave. On this day we were truly free. On this day we were truly brave. Guns had been beaten to plowshares (Isaiah 2:4) and the donkey laid down with the elephant while little children became our examples (Isaiah 11:6). We met terrorists with acts of overwhelming love and forgiveness. We did not love our lives so much as to shrink from death (Revelation 12:11).

The long dark night of violent resistance and oppression had ended. The alien was welcome amongst us as one of our own. We loved them as we loved each other because we were once aliens in this land (Leviticus 19:34). We all, from Florida to California, from Washington to Maine, shared everything we had with one another (Acts 4:32). Our fear of having enough was replaced with a confidence in our community. We knew there would be more than enough for all of us so we stopped hoarding goods.

There was no need for currency because we gave freely, we gave humbly, and we gave sacrificially. Evil was met with love and forgiveness. Justice was restorative, not punitive. When someone wronged someone our battle cry became, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We sought the healing of the evildoer, no longer did we seek their destruction.

We became a beacon of light to the world as we began to use the over six hundred billion dollars we annually spent on military to give food, water and education to those who could not afford it for themselves. The world’s greatest military power became the greatest beacon for change and growth in the world. We locked arms with the global community as we realized that our capacity to love must override our capacity to kill if we are to survive.

We took seriously the words of Jesus. We cared for the sick, fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty and obliterated the word poor from our vocabulary. We became the richest country in the world, because we had each other. We recognized our interdependence and ceased running from it. We decided to stop pointing fingers and instead we welcomed one another in warm embraces. Anger and hatred was melted by our intense love. God’s kingdom came in America as it is in heaven.

This is the vision God has given me for my country. I believe it is the dream in God’s heart for this world. Let us press on until this becomes reality. Today, I must ask myself what I can do to see the kingdom of heaven come on earth around me. Today, you must ask yourself the same. It may be a long journey, I may never see this promised land, but we press towards it nonetheless. And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life (Revelation 22:17). Abba, let your redeeming love flow down over our blood saturated land. Heal our fractured nation. Show us how to be your hands and feet. Let us see with your eyes and love with your heart. You are the savior of the world. Let it be Lord.

Amen.